Thursday, July 21, 2005

Biologists Counter Woodpecker Hopes

A sketch from 2004 of what was believed to be an ivory-billed woodpecker

Three biologists are questioning the evidence used by a team of bird experts who made the electrifying claim in April that they had sighted an ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird presumed to have vanished from the United States more than 60 years ago, in the swampy forests of southeast Arkansas.

If the challenge holds up, it would undermine not only a scientific triumph - the rediscovery of a resplendent bird that had been exhaustively sought for years - but also significant new conservation expenditures in the region.

The paper questioning the discovery has been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, which could post the analysis online within a few weeks. But the paper will be accompanied by a fierce rebuttal by the team that announced the discovery, and a response to that rebuttal by the challengers.

But only the video was potentially solid enough to confirm for the wider ornithological community the existence of the bird, the authors said in various statements at the time.

Everyone agrees that the bird that appears on the tape is either an ivory-billed woodpecker or a pileated woodpecker, a slightly smaller bird that is relatively common. Both species have a mix of white and black plumage. However, the ivory-billed woodpecker has a white trailing edge to its wings while the pileated woodpecker has a black trailing edge.

The team that conducted the original search for the bird ran extensive tests, including recreating the scene captured in video using flapping, hand-held models of the two types of woodpecker. They concluded that the plumage patterns seen in the grainy image could only be that of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

The authors of the new paper disagree.

* New York Times Story
* Video of what is thought to be Ivory-Billed Woodpecker
* Cornell Lab of Ornithology Interactive on Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

1 comment:

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